While smoking cannabis is still the most common method of consumption, today’s patients have many more options on how they consume their medical marijuana. The biggest growth area in consumption is vaporizing concentrates.
Concentrate is becoming an ambiguous word in the cannabis industry. It could refer to the wax you vaporize, the tincture under your tongue, or the orally administered THC-free cannabis oil that’s changing attitudes toward cannabis everywhere. The future of cannabis is steering toward these potent concentrated forms, especially as patients realize the therapeutic potential of non-smoking methods.
Shatter, wax, honeycomb, oil, crumble, sap, budder, pull-and-snap…these are some of the nicknames cannabis extracts have earned through their popularity, prevalence, and diversification. The goal of concentrates is to eliminate plant matter and extract resin-bearing trichromes from the dried flower and other unwanted matter. The trichromes contain all of the terepenes and cannabinoids – the essence of the plant that provides the medicinal value.
Concentrates offer a healthy alternative to patients who consume medical marijuana by eliminating the plant matter; patients are able to vaporize a more pure substance. While dried marijuana flowers usually contain 10-20% THC, concentrates can offer 60-95% THC, making concentrates a much more effective and efficient consumption method.
There are various forms of concentrate on the market, so we’ve broken the most popular ones below:
A relatively new extraction process, this process was impossible prior to the invention of commercial grade closed-loop butane extraction systems. Instead of using dry plant material, the live resin process used fresh frozen plants, which were harvested only hours earlier; this creates a product which has the terpene profile of the live plant rather than the dried flowers (terpenes degrade and change as the plant is dried).
Live resin offers two primary benefits: better flavours and a more complete terpene profile. Because terpenes do more than provide aroma, this process is arguably superior for capturing and delivering the maximum medical efficacy for a particular cannabis strain.
One of the oldest players in the game is hash. Hashish is made by eliminating plant material and collecting the trichomes from the flower tops of female cannabis plants. These flowers are the most potent parts of the plant. As a result, the THC content of hashish typically varies from 20% to 60%. Examples of top-shelf hash and modern interpretations of this millennia-old concentrate include bubble hash and full-melt hash.
Bubble hash involves soaking buds in ice water, causing the trichomes to become brittle and, upon the application of a bit of physical agitation, to fall off. Optimally, only the heads fall to the bottom of the ice water reservoir, where they are collected and dried. While typically not considered as high quality as solvent-based extraction processes, water hash can definitely be potent. Technically, the ice water acts as the solvent.
Full-melt hash is the top grade of water hash and dry sieve, which is indicated by the way it bubbles when heated. In order to see this most clearly, it’s best to use a screen and smoke the hash on its own. Applying light, indirect heat will cause the hash to start to melt and puddle — if it’s really good, you’ll see large, clear bubbles forming readily as the hash melts away to basically nothing.
Shatter is a stable form of butane hash oil, and is often golden or amber in colour and clear. The clear consistency comes from the molecules which if left undisturbed, forms a glass-like appearance. With its flawless amber glass transparency, Shatter has a reputation for being the purest and cleanest type of extract. But translucence isn’t necessarily the tell-tale sign of quality – the consistency and texture of oil comes down to different factors entirely.
The reason shatter comes out perfectly clear has to do with the molecules which, if left undisturbed, form a glass-like appearance. Heat, moisture, and high terpene contents can also affect the texture, turning oils into a runnier substance that resembles sap (hence the commonly used nickname “sap”. Oils with a consistency that falls somewhere between glassy shatter and viscous sap is often referred to as pull-and-snap.
Cannabis wax refers to the softer oils that have lost their transparency after extraction. The opaque, crumbly texture seen in hash oil, generally after being whipped over heat in order to introduce air into the product.
Unlike oils, the molecules of cannabis wax crystallize when aggravated, and light cannot travel through – this leaves us with a solid, non-transparent oil (which can take on different consistencies based on heat, moisture, and texture). Gooey waxes may be called budder and harder ones are referred to as crumble or honeycomb.
Hash oil, also known as hashish oil, bhutan/butane hash/honey oil, cannabis oil, liquid cannabis, hemp bud oleoresin, is an oleoresin obtained by solvent extraction of marijuana and/or hashish. Oil tends to be the least refined of the concentrates, as it’s a gooey, sticky liquid that can be hard to handle.
Cannabis oil, which has gained lots of media attention recently for its role in helping epilepsy and cancer patients, specifically children, is not a particular extraction method or product. In fact, cannabis oil can be created via a variety of extraction methods, all of which produce concentrate products of varying levels of quality and potency.
BHO, or butane hash oil, is an extremely potent concentrate popularly consumed for dabbing and other vaporization methods. Cannabinoids are drawn out of the plant through butane extraction, which leaves behind a wax that will either maintain its sticky consistency or harden up, resulting in a crumbly honeycomb or a glasslike shatter. Because its THC content stretches up to 80%, BHO is a popular remedy for chronic pain and other intractable symptoms.
CO2 oil, a concentrate made possible by expensive botanical extractors that use pressure and carbon dioxide to separate plant material. This method, called supercritical fluid extraction, is one of the most effective ways of reducing cannabis to its essential compounds. The amber oil it produces can be vaporized in a variety of ways.
In 2003 a man named Rick Simpson treated his skin cancer using a homemade remedy made from cannabis. By soaking the cannabis in pure naphtha or isopropyl alcohol, the therapeutic compounds are drawn out of the plant, leaving behind a tar-like liquid after the solvent fully evaporates. Also known as Phoenix Tears, RSO can be orally administered or applied directly to the skin.
A tincture is a concentrated form of medical cannabis in an alcohol or non-alcohol solution. Tinctures are highly concentrated and require careful dosage levels, starting out small and waiting to feel the effects before adding more. They can be taken under the tongue or mixed into water or other beverages.
Tinctures are particularly useful when experiencing vomiting or nausea, like many patients experience while undergoing chemotherapy.
Typical dosage of medical marijuana tinctures is between three drops and no more than two full droppers. As with edibles, it is best to start slowly and wait to see if the desired effect is achieved.